Anthony Long killed his wife while suffering from alcoholism, depression and the effects of drugs he told his doctors were “making things worse,” his attorney told jurors on Wednesday.
Long is on trial for first-degree murder and rape in connection with the death of Sonia Long in August 2007. If convicted of murder, he would spend the rest of his life in prison.
His attorney, Harvey Carpenter, and prosecutors spent Monday and Tuesday picking a jury before making opening statements and calling witnesses to the stand on Wednesday.
Carpenter made it clear that Anthony Long’s mental state at the time of the killing would be a key issue in the trial, which is expected to last until next week.
Carpenter has notified prosecutors that he intends to present evidence of his 40-year-old client’s “diminished (mental) capacity.”
One psychiatrist who evaluated Long said in a court document that his capacity to form the specific intent to kill was impaired. Her report said Long was unable to weigh the consequences of his actions in “a cool state of mind” and his capacity to appreciate the criminality of his conduct was impaired.
“While Tony Long did take Sonia’s life, the evidence will show these actions were not acts of premeditation and deliberation,” Carpenter said, citing key elements of the crime of first-degree murder in North Carolina. “These were acts of a mentally ill man who sought help over and over.”
Assistant District Attorney Clayton Jones called Sonia Long’s killing “a real-life human tragedy.”
After her relationship with her husband disintegrated, she had sought a restraining order and moved to a battered-women’s shelter just days before she was killed, Jones said.
She came in contact with her estranged husband because she had a lead on a new apartment. She needed to get her children’s birth certificates and Social Security cards to complete the application process.
Police officers found her strangled just inside the front door, Jones said.
Later, prosecutors revealed the murder weapon – a studded black belt – and a serrated kitchen knife used to stab Roderick Phillips, Sonia Long’s new boyfriend.
Phillips testified that he was lured into the house and stabbed by Anthony Long, who said that Sonia Long was having a medical emergency in the back bedroom.
Phillips met Sonia Long when they both worked the night shift at the Harris Teeter grocery store in the Park Road shopping center. As she grew more estranged from Anthony Long, Sonia Long began dating Phillips. They had a baby together – Daniel, who was 2 months old when Sonia Long died, Phillips testified.
Phillips testified that he and Anthony Long were cordial and polite to each other, but he felt uncomfortable about his treatment of Sonia.
“One of the main things that really made her uneasy was he would promise to make her life very miserable and a living hell” if she left him, Phillips said.
Phillips also went into detail about what happened the afternoon Sonia Long died.
They’d returned to Anthony Long’s home on Medford Drive to collect the papers, hoping he wouldn’t be at home.
He was. And as Phillips and Sonia Long sat in his minivan, they debated whether she should go in to collect the papers, or call the police for an escort some other time.
“She convinced me that everyone would be OK,” Phillips told the jury, “that she would just go and look for the legal documents of the children and grab a few extra things.”
She was inside the squat one-story house for half an hour. At one point, she came to the window, looked at Phillips and held up one finger, indicating she’d be just a few minutes more.
That was the last time Phillips saw her alive.
A few minutes later, Phillips testified, Anthony Long came to the door, claiming Sonia Long had a panic attack. Phillips grabbed Daniel and ran into the house. That’s when, Phillips said, Anthony Long tried to stab him.
“Mr. Long had hit me in the back with a knife. I had Daniel in my arms the whole time. … I seen his eyes go down toward Daniel and by the way his eyes went down, I knew he was going to try to do something to him.”
Phillips and Daniel escaped the house. And as he sped in his minivan to a nearby police station, he dialed 911.
Prosecutors played the recording of the 911 call as Sonia Long’s family wept.
“I think my girlfriend’s ex-husband has stabbed my girlfriend,” Phillips yells on the recording. “…She went in the house to get some things and she hasn’t come out yet.
“You need to get a police officer there. She could be laying dead there now.” Staff writer Gary L. Wright contributed.